by Tim Leary
As all cyclists know, early August means hundreds of thousands of bikes heading to the motorcycle Mecca of Sturgis, South Dakota. To many, the name “Sturgis” evokes thoughts of shiny, new, customized bikes.
But after 58 colorful years of assemblage, the Black Hills Motor Classic offers far more than just “new.” Each year, mixed amongst the supercharged, powder-coated, chopped, bored, and chromed, you’ll find hundreds of bikes from years past. Even the oldest bikes, often not fully restored, get just as many gawks as their glossier descendants.
Bob Stenstrom’s 1914 Harley-Davidson Silent Grey Fellow is exactly one of those kinds of bikes. Finding the Fellow in the storage shed of an aunt’s neighbor, Bob bought it and brought it to Minneapolis with the intention of fully restoring it. After getting the bike into running condition, Bob’s kept it in its rustic attire.
“It’s got more personality this way,” Stenstrom said. “He’s like a crusty, backwoods hillbilly. I can’t imagine giving him a shave and a haircut and putting him into a tuxedo.”
A bit further down Main Street, another crowd had formed around a beautifully restored bike–a 1954 Panhead Duo Glide. One of the admirers was a former owner of the bike, Mark Olsen of Minneapolis.
“When I bought this bike, it was a basket case–literally. I just threw everything onto a moving blanket and tossed it into my trunk. I got the thing totally assembled after a few years and a lot of swap meets, but I sold it before I could get it running very good. I just can’t believe it turned out this sharp.”
But bike history buffs don’t even have to wait for Main Street to fill up to see some gorgeous old machines. The national Motor Museum and Hall of Fame contains bike displays covering every era of motorcycling. Napkins are handed out at the entrance to keep excessive drool off the floors.
For the history-heads who possess enormous self-control, greater concentrations of vintage bikes can be seen at the vintage and classic motorcycle auction. Personally, I gave my credit cards to my wife for safe keeping–my judgment clouds in the presence of Indians, Excelsiors and Dreams. Especially “bargains” that just need “a little work.”
So the next time you’re at Sturgis, take some time to look back and investigate the old and exciting. It may give you an even greater appreciation of the new and exciting.